Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stump the Schwab Becomes "Dump The Schwab"

"Hmmm. Mets pocket schedule. Unused condom. PINK SLIP! Whaaaaaa??"
A bit too much was made last week in certain circles about ESPN firing 26-year Bristolite Howie Schwab - almost as if he deserved emeritus status just because he had been there a long time.

These companies... all of them... are just waiting for the instant they think they can live without you. That's how it goes. We should all know the drill by now.

That said, this Deadspin piece about Schwab contains an illuminating nugget of how the company operates.

I heard a story about Schwab last week that tells you a lot about Schwab and a lot more about the company that let him go. (I didn't hear this from Schwab, for the record. He refused to talk to us.) This happened in 2002. Mark Shapiro was ESPN's senior vice president for programming at the time, and Schwab was handling the BottomLine, ESPN's news ticker, another product of the network's fat mid-1990s. On this particular day, Schwab was watching TV at home and saw a mention of the Australian Open final run across the BottomLine—16th-seeded Thomas Johansson vs. ninth-seeded Marat Safin—only someone had removed the seeds from next to the names. 
It turned out that a directive had come down from Mark Shapiro's office, on the belief that a 16-vs.-9 final wasn't exactly appointment television; why mention the seeds at all? Schwab complained, according to our source, and eventually he and Shapiro had it out. 
Schwab thought it was inaccurate. Information is sacred, after all. 
Shapiro supposedly hung up on him. Information is a commodity, too.
I'm not sure what's more stupid, the office noodge insisting tennis seeds are listed accurately on the Bottom Line ticker, or the corporate boss thinking he can wring an extra tenth of a percentage point rating by smuding over the facts?

I'll rule in favor of Howie, but just barely.

That said, this commenter had perhaps the best additional take about what the mini-episode says about the "World Wide Leader".

Two things came immediately to mind reading this eulogy:

1) Ken Jennings' TED talk about the "obsolete know-it-all." His thesis is basically that because we have so much information at our finger tips now, knowing something has unfortunately and mistakenly become obsolete.

I'd imagine both Howie and Roger share much in common with Ken, with a love of knowledge for the sake of knowing chief among their similarities.

2) As a 23 year old, I've become keenly aware that the ESPN that exists now—and the viewers that it covets—are not the same as the ESPN of the early 2000's and the viewer it trained me to become. Shows likeStump the Schwab were the natural offspring of the late-1990's Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann heyday of sports-dorkery at ESPN. They told us that being smooth, funny, and encyclopedic as sports fans was cool.

Now, in this First Take era at ESPN they're pandering to the sports fan who cannot think critically, who is abrasive, confrontational, easily flustered, and quick to yell. Once upon a time, Stephen A. Smith didn't fit the culture and had to leave. Now, he is the culture, and at times the voice of reason as his companions push ever further into the absurd than even he is willing to go.


So, here's my conclusion. If Fox Sports 1 really wants to make a run at the throne—and hiring Onrait and O'Toole tells me they want to recreate the late-'90's ESPN magic—then they should without hesitation scoop up Schwab and Jackson. Let those guys bring over the top information nerds. Dedicate the network to being smooth, funny, and encyclopedic in its coverage and give us ESPN expat's an island to call home again


  1. I agree. ESPN has become unwatchable. I hope FS1 can get a foothold.

  2. I am a couple of years younger than you Czabe but me and my college roommates lived for watching the 2 AM Sportscenter after getting home from the bars and then getting up at 10 Am and rewatching it. The anchors at that time were awesome. You had Patrick, Olberman (when we was still a man of the people instead of the elitist snob he is now), Kilborn, Mees, Ley, etc. You only had one real over-the-top guy that was just coming on to the scene in Stuart Scott. Now, except for SVP, I can't think of a guy I like. Well, that isn't exactly true, I don't watch Sportscenter anymore. Nor, do I go